“Death of a Salesman”
The paper is about a novel “death of a salesman” in which Willy, the main character struggles in life to make sure that his two sons, Biff and Happy and his wife Linda have a decent life. He finds it hard to do this because he is lost in the past and his mind is constantly tormented with the hopes and dreams he had years ago that have since fallen through. He yearns desperately to make a difference in life but to no avail, he starts quarreling his eldest son Biff for not struggling to earn something for himself. Willy believes falsely that all it takes to make it in life is to be well liked. He loses his job eventually but he continues to lie to himself and his family hoping everything would turn out well in the end. Biff loses his respect for his father and dismisses him and his wishes. Here Linda comes in as the peace keeper and moderator of the family. All along Biff believed his father was beyond reproach until he discovered his unfaithfulness. This starts Biffs’ suffering for the next fifteen years. This drives Willy to think about committing suicide, and leave his insurance money to Biff to start a business. Willy’s funeral was poorly attended, confirming Biffs’ statement that Willy had wrong dreams.
In writing this book report, a thorough research of both the primary and secondary data was carried out. Books which narrate the act as well as academic journals were reviewed.
The past has completely engulfed Willy letting his mind be constantly tormented with the hopes and dreams he had years ago, dreams that have since fallen through. He hopes for the successes of his son Biff who is already lost. Willy can’t believe this. He tells his wife Linda, “In the greatest country in the world a young man with such personal attractiveness, gets lost.” He believes that all it takes to be successful is to be well liked, this quote and others is evidence. Willy thinks that the neighborhood has been boxed in; he says “…..you can’t raise a carrot in the backyard.” A major motif of the play is the idea of planting a garden, of leaving something behind. He desperately wants to make a difference in life but he has failed, all he has is his self importance. He says, “I’m the new England man. I’m vital in new England.” It can be argued that Willy was once a vital salesman, but he is not anymore. In a world of illusion is the only place Willy can exist comfortably because he has immersed himself and his family in a false sense of reality (Novel guide 1; Salesman 3).
This family is bent with dysfunction, originating from these false dreams and hopes Willy has fed his sons. He has always told them that a business career is the only way to achieve success. Hap has taken it up but from this conversation we see that he is not happy or successful with it. Biff asks Hap, “You’re a success, aren’t you? Are you content?” Hap replies, “hell no! …..But then, what I’ve always wanted; My own apartment, a car, plenty of women. And still, goddammit, I’m lonely.” This clearly shows that Willy’s definition of success as compared to Hap’s life was not valid, although Hap did not comprehend or realize this. On his part, Biff rejected this materialistic sense of success. He had been enjoying a leisurely life on a cattle ranch in the West, but the sub-conscious force to become something bigger than most men, brought him back home. He says, “When spring comes out west, I suddenly get the feeling, my God, I’m not getting anywhere! I’m thirty-four years old; I oughta be makin’ my future.” This conflict between what Biff really enjoys, and this vision of success remained an internal struggle for Biff until the end of the play (Miller 25).
In the play Willy sends his sons mixed messages about success in life, at the same time he congratulates Biff for stealing the football, he tells him that stealing never gets you anywhere. “I never in my life told him anything but decent things!” yells Willy, this confuses Biff. He tells Bernard to give Biff the answers for the regents. Willy is totally blind to his family’s source of problems; this comes out when he says, “Why is he taking everything?” Hap is always trying to win his father’s attention because Willy mostly focuses on Biff. He keeps repeating, “I’m loosing weight, you notice, pop?” thinking that Willy should congratulate him for his appearance. One core problem of Willy’s character that eventually led to his fall is revealed. Basing on his false belief that all it takes to get ahead in the world is to be well liked, he tells his sons, “Be liked and you will never want….. Take me, for instance….. ‘Willy Loman is here!’ That’s all it takes, and I go right through.” With this, he is also lying to himself, because in reality Willy is not liked and he finds it had selling. He tells Linda, “The trouble is, Linda, people don’t seem to take to me.” Despite all these Willy still inflates his image for his sons and himself, he sees appearance to be very important, he tells his sons, “That’s why I thank Almighty God you’re both built like Adonises”(Miller 35).
Some important discourse takes place while Willy is playing cards with Charlie. Here Charlie is seen as the voice of reality in this play. He knows where and who he is, and accepts the fact that he is just an ordinary man, unlike Willy. While talking about Biff, Charlie says, “Let him go.” Willy not standing this tells Charlie, “I got nothing to give him, Charlie, I’m clean.” This is very true; Willy Loman is too poor to give his son any thing. He would like to see his son succeed, and his investment of time and energy has not paid off, and Charlie tells him, “When a bottle is broken, you don’t get your nickel back.” Being in Brooklyn with a low-paying job is a shame to Willy, he yearns for Ben’s good lifestyle, but being who he is, he has to cover this fact up with lies. In the presence of Ben, Willy talks admirably about their father. He says that he is a good man who, “…..made more money in a week than a man like you could make in a lifetime….” He is one of Willy’s idols. But in reality the father deserted his family, and Ben tried to go Alaska to look for him, ending up in Africa, stumbled upon some diamond mines and became rich. Ben says, “Why, boys, when I was seventeen I walked into the jungle, and when I was twenty-one I walked out. And by Gog I was rich.” But Willy does not agree he believes Ben worked for it and wants his sons to do the same: work hard and be like Uncle Ben. He asks Ben, “What’s the answer?” He wants to be reassured that he has been raising his sons properly. He says, “….to walk into a jungle. I was right! I was right!” At this point in the play, we get mixed messages not just from Willy but also from Ben. Ben asks Biff to fight with him, but he trips him and says, “Never fight fair with a stranger, boy. You’ll never get out of the jungle that way.” The jungle here is used metaphorically to mean life. It is the same jungle that Willy talks about when he tells Hap, “The woods are burning! I can’t drive a car!” Willy’s life is crashing down around him, and can do nothing about it: his sons are stealing on his insistence, he feels terribly inadequate beside Ben, he is ridden with the guilt of his infidelity, and he has lost his job. He therefore continues to lie to himself and his family hoping everything will be fine in the end (Miller 48).
The tension that exists between Willy and Biff is revealed in this section. Biff has lost his respect for Willy; this makes him dismiss his father and his wishes. This also brings out Linda as the peace keeper and moderator of the family, she knows about Willy’s attempts to commit suicide but lets it continue, she does not want to confront this reality. Hap’s desire to get Willy’s attention is again brought out when he tells his parents, “I’m gonna get married, mom. I wanted to tell you” (Miller 60). Willy continues to live on false hopes waking up in the morning with the thought that Biff will end up in business and make it big. When Linda tells him about the expenses that need to be paid, including the broken refrigerator, he says, “Once in my life I’d like to own something outright before its broken! I’m always in a race with the junkyard.” He can not deal with the reality of the modern era. The same morning Willy’s boss fires him. He responds with a long monologue about why he became a salesman (Lombardi 3). He talks of an old salesman he once knew: “….when he died- and by the way he died the death of a salesman, in his green velvet slippers…..hundreds of salesmen and buyers were at his funeral.” This is what made him become a salesman. He tells Howard, “I put thirty-four years into this firm, Howard, and now I can’t pay my insurance! You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away-a man is not a piece of fruit!’ (Miller 80)
Willy goes to Charlie and tells him what had happened, Charlie says, “Willy, when are you going to realize that them things don’t mean anything? You named him Howard, but you can’t sell that.” He responds, “I’ve always tried to think otherwise, I guess. I always felt that if a man was impressive, and well liked, that morning-“Charlie cuts him off, and its here that Willy begins his tragic fall. He tells Charlie, ”funny, y’know? After the highways, and the trains, and the appointments, and the years, you end up worth more dead than alive” (Miller 83).
Hap’s character is revealed in this section as he tries to hit on a woman in the restaurant through the lies he tells her, but most importantly is the flashback where Biff finds Willy with the woman. All along Biff had believed that his father was beyond reproach, he had placed him on a dais and worshiped him. This shattered that ideal that Biff had held for long. This sparked the turmoil that Biff went through for the next fifteen years. Willy tries to give all his money to a waiter as he leaves the restaurant, saying, “Here’s some more, I don’t need it anymore…..is there a seed store in the neighborhood? He has made up his mind to commit suicide and leave his insurance money for Biff so he can start a business and be a success. “I’ve got to get some seeds, right away. Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.” Willy at this point, has an urgent need to leave something behind, and the seed acts as a metaphorical representation for this (Miller 105).
This section begins with the boys returning home from their night in town and Linda is furious, she asks them, “don’t you care whether he lives or dies? Here we see that she knows his faults but she tries to shield him from hurting himself. Willy is seen planting his garden and talking to Ben about the insurance Biff will get when he commits suicide. Ben tells him “……it’s a cowardly thing.” But Willy still wants Biff to think he’s important. He says, “Ben, that funeral will be massive! ..... That boy will be thunderstruck, Ben because he never realized-I am known!” This is also just an illusion. At this point Biff has realized the reality of their lives, but Willy continues to live the illusion (James 39). Ben comes in and says, “The jungle is dark, but full of diamonds, Willy.” He continues to use the metaphor for life, and the diamonds as the symbol of success. “One must go in and fetch a diamond out.” And Willy says, “imagine, when the mail comes, he be ahead of Bernard again!”At the graveyard, Linda and Happy stand in shock after Willy’s poorly attended funeral. Biff says,”He had the wrong dreams. All, all…. Wrong.” Happy tries to defend his father; he can not see the reality that Biff sees. The play ends when Linda asks Willy for forgiveness for being unable to cry. She tells him the final payment on the mortgage was made that day. She begins to sob, repeating “We’re free……” (Miller 123).
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